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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
There is a verse in today’s Old Testament reading that sounds exactly like what the prophet Jeremiah would say if he were preaching today and addressing our nation’s cultural elite and our politicians and our wishy-washy progressive church leaders. Jeremiah asks, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush.” One of the signs of unrepentance and acceptance of sin is that you lose all sense of shame and embarrassment. Instead of blushing at the thought of some disgraceful sin, you just shrug your shoulders and say, “Meh, whatever.” This is how it was for the people of Israel. They had become so accustomed to the various abominations of their day that they were no longer able to be embarrassed. They had no sense of shame over their false dealings and their covetous hearts and their sacrilegious deeds. Even when a prophet like Jeremiah would call them to account, nothing could make them blush.
And so it is today. It seems the only thing that brings shame and disgrace any more is when people openly agree with God’s Word. If you say that Christianity and faith in Jesus is the only way to eternal life, if you say that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, if you say that transgenderism is nothing less than an abuse and mutilation of the body God created, then you are considered to be hateful and bigoted and closed-minded. Just this past week I was watching an otherwise family friendly show on broadcast TV where a man was talking about his husband as if that were perfectly normal and good and not something corrupt and shameful. Or the next day I was listening to a morning radio personality give a tribute to fallen Milwaukee police officer Michael Michalski. And in the process the radio personality made statements of how God created human beings imperfect(?!) and how He gives us all the choice and the ability to atone for ourselves. And I think this radio personality would think of himself as a Christian. But there was no mention of the Jesus that Michalski believed in, the One who atoned for his and all of our sins, just more of the ignorant belief that we are responsible for our own salvation. Everything seems upside down and backwards–not only in the world but even in the church, where pastors and priests cast aside the Word of God for worldly acceptance and success and approve of falsehood in the very sanctuary of God. And even when error is pointed out and the truth is spoken in love, very often there is no shame, no embarrassment, no repentance and change, no blushing and returning to the Lord.
Let us be on guard, then, that we aren’t drawn in to adopt the ways of the world and become numb to the truth. Do we still think of a sexual relationship outside of God-given marriage as shameful, as Romans 1 describes it? Or is it so common and accepted that we say, “Meh, whatever. No big deal.” Have we lost our ability to blush at such things? Or when faced with the opportunity to do something a little unethical with work or business dealings or taxes, do we shamelessly justify our covetousness with the thought that everyone else is doing it these days anyway? Too often, it’s not just the world; even we Christians engage in crude joking, dishonor authority, view media we shouldn’t be viewing, harbor grudges, join in gossip, devote our hearts to stuff rather than God–all without feeling any particular shame, even when we’re confronted about it. Scripture says that lawsuits between Christians and keeping bad company are causes for “shame” (1 Corinthians 6:5; 15:33-34). Ephesians 5 says that it is shameful even to speak of the unfruitful works of darkness done by the wicked in secret. So it is that Jeremiah prophesies, “No man repented of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’... From the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely.”
However, let us also be on guard against the opposite error as well. For when we see the corrupt and degenerate state of things, we can be tempted to stake our hope on our own moral efforts and our own upright living. We can begin to place our confidence in the fact that we ourselves haven’t succumbed to the ways of the world, or at least that we’ve turned our lives around now. We can begin to think that our works and our righteousness will keep us close to God and win His favor. And such a false belief is just as bad as society’s corruption.
St. Paul spoke of that in the Epistle for today. He said that the Jews of his day did have a zeal and a passion for God; they were very religious. But rather than receiving the righteousness God gives in Christ as a free gift, they thought they could produce their own righteousness through the works of the law. And that’s actually just another form of idolatry, trusting in yourself, making a god out of your own spirituality. Self-righteousness is no better than sinful immorality. When you think about it, those who are self-righteous can’t blush either. For they think they have no real sins to be embarrassed about, nothing to be ashamed of.
Let us remember then that it is not enough to have religious conviction or spiritual passion as the Jews did. For too often that zeal and passion are man-centered rather than God-centered, focusing on my works and my life and my walk rather than on Christ’s works and Christ’s life and Christ’s walk to the cross for us. Our fervor should especially be directed toward the life-giving teaching of the Gospel and not simply to the deadly requirements of the Law.
St. Paul says in the Epistle, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Did you hear that? Christ is the end, the completion, the goal of the law. That doesn’t mean that you are free to disobey the commandments. But it does mean that the entire law is meant to point you to Jesus, and show you your need for Him who has saved you from the Law’s judgment. That’s why shame is an important and necessary thing. For without regret and shame over sin, there is nothing to drive you to the cross, to create in you a desire for cleansing and mercy and forgiveness. The Law says, “Shame on you” so that you might despair of your own righteousness and seek the righteousness of Christ alone, freely given to you in the Gospel.
All of the moral demands of the law have been satisfied and kept completely by Christ for you. All of the old ceremonial regulations pertaining to the Sabbath and circumcision and sacrifices find their fulfillment in Christ, the perfect sacrifice, who was cut off for your sins and raised again to give you life and rest.
Christ came to take your shame away by taking your sin away. It is written in Hebrews, “For the joy that was set before Him,” Jesus “endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” All that He did because He loves you. He was shamed and humiliated more than anyone as He faced God’s wrath and paid sin’s penalty at Golgotha. And then He rose triumphantly, so that His victory over sin and shame might be yours as well. Now the Epistle proclaims to you that “everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”
I’m sure that all of us could be truly humiliated and shamed and embarrassed if something about us was made publicly known and revealed to the world. All of us have reason to blush. Rejoice, then, that even though all of those things are revealed in the eyes of God, He has chosen by His grace to cover your shame, just as Adam and Eve were covered and clothed by God after the sin in the garden. Your shame was swallowed up in the wounds of Jesus. In Him your dignity is restored so that you need not cower before God, but you can stand tall and unashamed as His dear children, clothed in the white robe of Christ.
Jesus weeps and cries over those who do not know their shame, who think they have nothing to be blush about before God, who see no need for a Savior. That’s why He weeps over Jerusalem, out of love. It’s bad enough that their unbelief would result in the destruction of the city by the Romans within a generation. But He weeps especially over their rejection of Him, that they do not want the life and mercy He brings. God Himself was visiting them in the flesh. But they did not know the things that made for their peace.
Let us learn from this so that we may recognize the time of our visitation by God. It has come upon in Jesus; and it is coming upon you right now, even in this very moment. This is the hour in which Christ Himself is coming to you in the words of His saving Gospel now sounding in your ears. Let us penitently acknowledge our shame, and then let us take courage and believe firmly and gladly in Christ. Don’t assume that you’ll have forever to repent. It is written, “Behold now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” Don’t let this time of your visitation pass you by. Believe in what the Lord has done to redeem you from your sin, how He has suffered your shame on the cross and taken it away forever. Take refuge in Him and His words; seek His righteousness.
Jesus says, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!” Brothers and sisters in Christ, here are the things that make for your peace with God, the body and blood of Christ, offered up for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your peace, for your rest. Call upon God, and He will hear your voice. Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you. For He has redeemed your soul in peace from the battle that was against you.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠